Q&A: Pat Toomey

The first-term Republican U.S. senator on Donald Trump, the Second Amendment and the white working class

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Your dad was a union worker. Your mom was a secretary. Having grown up in the white working class, why do you think that community is experiencing such high rates of opioid addiction, imprisonment and suicide? There’s not a simple answer we can point to. The one thing I am sure of is that if we generate stronger economic growth, an environment where people have jobs, where people are getting raises—that may not solve all problems, but it makes all problems easier to solve.

The white working class is expected to go heavily for Donald Trump in November. We’re weeks away from the election, and you still haven’t said whether you’ll vote for him. I’m sure there’s some area where I’ve disagreed with every [Republican] presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan. But it never occurred to me that I had to think long and hard about supporting them. Donald Trump is different. He’s taken some steps that I consider to be very constructive. But I’m still in the mode where I hope to be sold.

What about Trump gives you pause? I thought his comments about the Khan family were completely inappropriate. His comments about John McCain, some of the things he’s said about women, the categorical ban of all
Muslims—I just don’t agree with that.

Trump is arguably the most well-studied candidate in modern history. How could you need more time? Just because there’s a lot of information out there doesn’t mean it’s easy to make up your mind.

You’ve been endorsed by Gabby Giffords’s gun-safety PAC and Michael Bloomberg. How did you become the face of moderate Republicans on guns? I never imagined that I was going to be the face of Republicans on this issue. I’m a gun owner. I take my son shooting. I’m a huge Second Amendment supporter. But I never saw a contradiction between that and a three-minute background check. As a society, we’ve long agreed that there are categories of people who don’t have a Second Amendment right: young children, dangerously mentally ill people, violent criminals. And since we all agree on that, how do you achieve that without having a mechanism to determine if someone is in one of these categories?

Yet even after 20 children were gunned down in Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, your bill to expand background checks failed. Why? I think it’s better to ask some of the people who voted “no” on that question.

One of the hot-button issues in your Senate race has been the Trans-Pacific Partnership. You were initially undecided about the TPP; recently, you came out against it. Why? As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I consistently stressed some of the things that I think are really important to Pennsylvania that needed to be addressed adequately in this agreement, such as sufficient protections for intellectual property, especially biologics, which is very important to a lot of jobs in Pennsylvania. The administration completely capitulated on this.

During the spring, you tweeted about your Democratic opponent, Katie McGinty, using #PhillyMcGinty. Is that a dog whistle for Pennsylvanians who are anti-Philadelphia? No, absolutely not. That was always meant to underscore Katie McGinty’s support for—or at least tolerance of—the very badly thought-out sanctuary city policy in Philadelphia. To think that I would ever disparage the biggest city in our Commonwealth, and such an iconic American city, would be ridiculous.

Published as “We Want Answers” in the October 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.